Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 11, 2013

Sleep tight!

As the plane began its approach to Green Bay's airport, I was pleased to see neat white houses, big red barns and silos framed by yellow, orange and red trees. Although I've spent time in Wisconsin every summer and winter and occasionally in the spring since Art and I were married 25 years ago, it's only been the past seven years or so that I've visited in the autumn.

I came to help husband Art put our North Woods cottage "to bed" for the winter. He had been in his home state since early September, alternating between trout fishing and working on various family history projects.

We had connected every day via texts or phone calls, updating each other on our activities and comparing weather reports. On the day he left, Manhattan reached 98F, but it barely made 80F there. The "Little Apple" eventually reached a low of 37F one night, but it was 2F below freezing in the North Woods. Those temperatures created the spectacular fall color I saw through the plane's window.

Art met me at the airport and we then joined his cousin Jeff and wife Lorraine who had driven up from Appleton. Jeff drove us to a Chinese restaurant near where the Ford Hopkins drugstore had been located. Art's and Jeff's Aunt Ione had worked there in the middle 1940s. The Green Bay Packers' "office" - which was really just coach Curly Lambeau's room in a nearby hotel - was a block away and players were frequent visitors at the store's lunch counter. Ione had shared a room with Packer tackle Pete Tinsley's fiancé Bernice, who also worked at the store. Jeff was born in December of 1944, the same month the Packers won the league championship. Tinsley gave an autographed football to Jeff's parents as a souvenir of both events - a ball Jeff subsequently donated to the Packer Hall of Fame.

Since I had only seen the home of the Packers on television, after we finished eating, we drove to the stadium. Although most parts of the complex were already closed by the time we got there, we could still walk around the lobby area. The stadium holds close to 80,000 fans, but the complex includes much more - restaurants, a Packers gift shop, a set-up for TV stations to do post-game broadcasts, and the Hall of Fame. It was fun to hear Art and Jeff talk about Packer trivia. Jeff even pointed out a photo of the 1944 squad with Tinsley.

After an hour or so at the stadium, Art and I headed to the North Woods. It was dark by the time we left, so fall color appreciation was over for that day.

But the next day, we spent four hours in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Although it was cloudy, the oranges were particularly spectacular against the dark evergreens. Many of the forest roads were carpeted with leaves and pine needles from the wind and rain of previous days. When I stepped outside the car to take pictures, it was so quiet that even the chattering of chipmunks and calls of birds seemed muffled. We saw two female pheasants, three young wild turkeys, an eagle and a badger.

That night, the wind and rain came in earnest. By morning, our nearby lake was shrouded in fog and mist so I could barely see the maples on the opposite side. That was just as well because Art and I needed to spend the day readying our cottage for the winter. We packed up tools and fishing gear, emptied and cleaned trash barrels, scrubbed the grill, closed all the storm windows, emptied and scoured the refrigerator, shut down the water heater and drained all the water from the pipes. Before that last step, we filled bottles and jugs with water so we'd have enough to wash up, brush our teeth and flush the toilet the next morning.

On Sunday, we awoke at 6 and finished the last few steps - putting perishable food in a cooler to come home with us, taking sheets off the bed and towels off the racks, packing our clothes, setting the thermostats to 55 degrees, adding anti-freeze to the drains and writing a note for the neighbor who watches our place to take the food we had left on the counter.

Then we locked the door and said "Goodbye!"

It's always a melancholy time, and this year involved a few milestones that amplified that emotion. Five years ago, Art's Mom, who was a regular with us at the cottage in previous years, made her last trip. Ten years has passed since the garage had told Art he needed to junk his fishing car, but he kept it going with a $3 can of block sealer each year. Twenty years ago was our first trip to the area. This year was the fishing car's 30th birthday and Art's 60th fishing year on his beloved streams.

I told Art I feel like I've left a piece of my heart everywhere I've gone. The cottage has several of those pieces. And there are always those thoughts of what comes next. Oldest daughter Mariya no longer has much interest in the cottage, but so far younger daughter Katie seems to enjoy it. Daughter-in-law Lacey would like to visit, but her work makes it difficult. Art twice received e-mails while he was there from our "German son" Tim that he was ready to trade in Berlin for the North Woods.

But whatever the future holds, I'm extremely happy we've made such good memories there over the past 20 years. Sleep tight, little cottage! If all goes well, we'll be back before you know it!

Left: on Friday, we encountered this young turkey scurrying into the woods; right: time to say, "Good bye, old friend, we'll see you next year."

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